There are no style points in golf. As the old saying goes, “It ain't how, it's how many.”

Sure, we'd all like to hit towering iron shots that stop on a dime next to the pin. But whenever we're beyond the 150-yard marker, few amateurs have that ability. In fact, many of us are lucky to fly the ball onto the green from farther than 120 yards out.

That's why it's wise to learn this simple rule: The ground is your friend. Bouncing the ball onto the green may not draw oohs and ahhs from your playing partners, but it will help you beat them where it matters – the scorecard.

Naturally, conditions must be favorable to run the ball onto the green. That means no hazards to clear, obviously, but also reasonably firm turf and a green with a receptive front (e.g. not elevated). It's tougher to bounce the ball onto the green playing uphill or if the grass is wet from dew or rain, too.

Playing the run-up or bump-and-run shot often means aiming away from the flag, but that's actually a good way to lower your scores. It's especially useful when playing from a downhill stance, where it's difficult to make good contact, or when hitting to a downhill target since the ball will roll farther.

The run-up shot is easy to execute by following these steps:

  • Choose a target on the green away from bunkers, thick rough or other trouble.
  • Identify a spot on your target line short of the green where you want to land the ball, factoring in how the ball is bouncing and rolling that day.
  • Even though you're playing to a shorter distance, choose at least as much club as you'd need to fly the ball onto the green.
  • Play the ball in the middle of your stance, grip down slightly, and make an easy swing.

The softer swing will create a lower shot with less backspin that hops forward when it lands. One thing to keep in mind: Playing into the wind, the ball will stop more quickly; it will roll farther when hitting downwind.

How and Why a Run Up Shot Can Help You Hit More Greens

How and Why a Run Up Shot Can Help You Hit More Greens

In its original form, golf was a game that was predominately played along the ground. Shots which were hit high up into the air were practically unheard of, as the equipment used by early golfers did not permit such play. Also, the location of those first rounds of golf had something to do with the style of play that developed. Playing on hard, wind-swept ground, it wouldn't make much sense to hit high shots. Keeping the ball down was the best way to go, and that is the way it was done for many years.

As time went by, golf equipment improved to the point where it became more and more viable to hit the ball high into the air. These days, nearly any golfer with the right gear can send a shot skyward. The game has changed dramatically as a result of these equipment developments, and today's golfer almost exclusively hits shots which are meant to sail through the air and land very near to the target. While there is nothing wrong with that style of golf, there is still something to be said for running the ball up to the green.

In this article, we are going to discuss how you can use run up shots to improve your greens hit percentage. You certainly aren't going to want to play run up shots on every hole, nor would you be able to do so. Course design has evolved along with equipment, to the point where most modern courses are designed with the air-game in mind. However, you should know how to play a low shot that bounces and rolls onto the green, as this skill can come in handy from time to time.

Of course, since today's equipment is designed to help you get the ball up into the air, you are basically going to be fighting against your equipment in order to hit a low shot. That isn't to say that it's impossible – it's not – but you are going to have to work hard to pull it off. Learning the techniques necessary to produce a low shot with a low spin rate is essential if you are going to make this strategy work out on the course.

In addition to understanding swing technique, you'll also need to know how to spot opportunities to put this shot to use. While you can't run the ball onto the green on every hole, you might actually be able to use this method more often than you would expect. As long as you have this shot in the back of your mind and are ready to pull it out when the time is right, it can help you cut strokes from your average score.

All of the content below is based on a right-handed golfer. If you happen to play left-handed, please take a moment to reverse the directions as necessary.

The Benefits of a Run Up Shot

The Benefits of a Run Up Shot

So, if hitting the ball through the air is so simple thanks to club technology, why would you play a shot that runs up onto the green? There are actually a number of benefits to opting for this plan. In this section, we are going to touch on a few different benefits that you can enjoy by playing the ball down on the ground rather than hitting it through the air all the way to the target. By knowing what benefits await when you use this shot, you will feel more motivated to practice it during upcoming range sessions.

Some of the biggest benefits of a hitting a run up shot are as follows –

  • Dealing with firm conditions. It can be difficult to control the ball after it lands when you are playing a course which is particularly firm. If the weather has been hot and dry in your area lately, there is a good chance that the course will be playing fast. In that case, carrying the ball all the way onto the green might cause it to bounce over the ball. Even a high rate of backspin may not be enough to save you when the greens are particularly hard. A better plan may be to bounce the ball up onto the green, giving it plenty of time to lose steam as it rolls out toward the hole. This kind of shot would land well short of the green, take a few bounces, and then roll gently onto the putting surface. Rather than being an optional play, this might be your only viable choice when the ground gets too hard for high shots.
  • Avoiding the wind. You already know that playing golf in the wind is a challenging task. No matter what direction the wind happens to be blowing, keeping the ball down will help you regain control over your shots. Most golfers know that they should keep the ball down when playing into the breeze, but few know this is actually a good idea when playing in any kind of wind. Even if the wind is at your back, resist the temptation to hit an extra-high shot in order to ride the breeze. Such a shot might travel a long distance, but it will be extremely hard to control. Opt for a lower game when the winds come up and your scores will benefit in the end.
  • Staying away from a hazard. Picture the following scenario – you are hitting an approach shot into the green on a par four, and the right side of the green is guarded by a large pond. If you try to carry the ball all the way onto the green, you are going to have to deal directly with that hazard. A shot pushed out to the right will likely wind up wet, and you will waste a stroke or two in the process. On the other hand, you could choose to run the ball up onto the green, making it far more likely that you will hit your target line accurately. It is easier to keep low shots on line, as they don't have nearly as much time to turn in the air. Bouncing the ball onto the green won't take the water completely out of play, but it will make it a less likely outcome.
  • Reaching a hole location in the back of the green. It can be difficult to reach hole locations when they are cut in the rear quarter of the green. Carrying the ball that far back takes a steady nerve, as hitting the shot just a bit too far could leave you over the green and in deep trouble. To have the best of both worlds, consider running the ball up in this situation. You will be able to roll the ball all the way back to the hole location, and even if you give the shot a bit too much speed, it will likely stop quickly after leaving the green. Rather than flying the ball into a bunker or some other tough spot, you might roll just off onto the fringe or into the light rough. If rear hole locations tend to give you trouble, think about bouncing the ball into the green as a way to get all the way back there safely.

There are many benefits to using a run up shot, and you might find that you enjoy other benefits which aren't even on this list. At this point, you are probably already thinking about a couple holes on your own home course where a run up shot could be useful. To make sure you know how to hit this kind of shot when the need arises, the next section is going to offer tips on executing the necessary technique properly.

Making It Happen

Making It Happen

The good news is this – hitting a run up shot is actually pretty easy. The technique to play your ball low along the ground is relatively simple, and you should only have to practice this new shot for a short period of time before it becomes comfortable. The bad news, if you can call it that, is the fact that you'll need to spend at least some practice time working on your run up shot prior to trying it on the course. That seems like a small price to pay for the benefit of learning a shot which can help you in many different situations.

The best way to think about learning this shot is to approach it as a series of three adjustments. Rather than trying to make a whole new swing just for this purpose, it will be easier to just make these tweaks to your standard technique. The end result will be a swing which looks very similar to your normal move, but it will produce a low shot that should bounce and roll nicely up onto the green.

When you are ready to start practicing this shot, work on the following three adjustments.

  • Swing softer. Many golfers are surprised to learn that this is the first step when you want to hit the ball lower. Making a slow swing is desirable because a slower swing is going to lead to a lower backspin rate on your shot. And, since backspin causes the ball to lift up into the air, less backspin will mean less lift – and a lower shot in the end. Also, with less spin on the ball, the shot is going to be less likely to 'dig in' to the turf when it lands. That means a clean first bounce, and a clean roll up toward the target. A low spin rate is a necessity when trying to hit the run up shot, and nothing will bring your spin rate down quite like making a slower swing.
  • Play the ball back in your stance. While you may have been surprised by the first point, you probably saw this second point coming. To lower your launch angle, and lower the flight of the ball overall, you are going to need to move the ball back in your stance. To do this, simply take your normal stance and then adjust your feet a couple inches to the left. Move your left foot to the left by two or three inches, then move your right foot in the same way, and you will be ready to go. Be careful not to allow the ball to get too far back in your stance, as this mistake will make it difficult to achieve clean contact. In most cases, playing the ball just slightly behind the midpoint of your stance will be perfect.
  • Stand slightly closer to the ball. This last adjustment is going to help you make an upright swing, which is perfect when you need to hit a low bullet up toward the target. If you were to stand farther back, you would run the risk of lifting the ball too high into the air – even if you stick with the previous two adjustments. Also, it can be harder to start the ball on the proper line when you use a flatter, rounded swinging action. Move in a couple inches closer to the ball than usual, make an upright swing, and hit down through the ball with confidence.

It might be surprising, but those three points are all you need to do in order to hit low run up shots. Once you understand those three tips, the best thing you can do is get out to the range and try them for yourself. Most likely, the swing will feel a little awkward at first, and you will probably struggle to produce the kinds of results you desire. Stick with it, and soon enough you will see beautiful low shots that you can trust enough to put into use during an upcoming round.

Watching for the Right Time

Watching for the Right Time

For the purposes of this article, we are going to assume that you have spent some time practicing and you have gotten comfortable with the low run up shot. Now what? How do you know when to use this shot, and when to keep it in the bag? In this section, we are going to get a handle on that question.

To make sure you are picking out just the right times to use your run up shot, think about the following tips.

  • Look for a clear runway. This is the first point you need to watch for when you are considering a run up shot. If you don't have a clear runway in front of the green, you will be forced to play the shot through the air. What does it mean to have a 'clear runway'? Well, for one thing, there should be no hazards or steep slopes in your way. If a shot which lands well short of the green is likely to bounce into a bunker or some deep rough, you don't have the clear runway needed to run the ball up. Also, is the green is elevated significantly above the level of the fairway, you probably should pass on the idea of bouncing the ball toward the putting surface.
  • Look for a reason. Generally speaking, you are going to get the ball close to the hole more consistently through the air than you will by bouncing it along the ground. There are simply fewer variables involved in a shot that flies all the way to the target. With that in mind, your default option should be an airborne shot. You should only turn to your run up shot when there is a specific reason to do so. In the absence of such a reason, you should just hit a high shot as usual. Think carefully before each shot to decide whether or not it will be necessary to send the ball along the ground, or if you would be better off taking it up into the sky.
  • The right slope. It is important to remember that the ball is going to need to find a way to come to a stop once it gets up on the green. You won't be using loft or spin to stop the ball, so it is only going to come to rest when it runs out of forward momentum. That can work nicely when the green is tilted toward the fairway, but it will be quite difficult if that putting surface is sloped toward the back. With the green running away from you, the ball will likely just continue to run out until it rolls off the other side. Unless you have no other option, avoiding the run up shot when the green is tilted away from you will likely be for the best.

With time and experience, you will get better and better at spotting opportunities to use this shot. You probably won't use this shot all that often – maybe not even once per round – but it can come up big when the time is right. Be smart with your decision making and commit fully to your choice when you decide that a run up shot is the right play.

The Run Up Shot in the Short Game

The Run Up Shot in the Short Game

Technically, the 'run up' shot is called a bump-and-run when you are playing from near the green. Rather than chipping the ball high up into the air and using spin to bring it to a stop, you may choose to just bump the ball onto the green before letting it run the rest of the way. Just as is the case from back in the fairway, a bump-and-run won't always be the right short game shot to use – but it is a great shot to have available when you need it.

The big advantage of the bump-and-run is the fact that it offers more margin for error than a higher chip shot. You don't have to catch the ball perfectly in order to bump it onto the green, and you don't have to guess as to how much spin the shot is going to have. This kind of shot is quite similar to a putt, and it is one of the easiest ways to play up toward the hole in the short game.

During your next short game practice session, spend some time working on your bump-and-run shots. These shots are very similar to the run up shots you hit from farther back. You are going to make a soft little swing with the ball back in your stance to produce a low flight pattern. The ball should only fly a very short distance through the air before landing and rolling out toward the hole. If you are close to the green when hitting this shot, you might even be able to use something like a five or six iron.

Reaching for your bump-and-run shot is a particularly good idea when you are under pressure. It can be difficult to catch your lofted chip shots cleanly when you are feeling a little nervous, so the added margin for error that comes with this low shot will be appreciated. As a good rule of thumb, you should always look for the lowest possible path to the hole in the short game, as lower shots are easier than high ones when you are within close range. In many ways, this is the opposite story from what you will find back in the fairway. High shots are desirable from longer distance when possible, but staying low in the short game is a great way to go.

Every golfer should have a run up shot in his or her bag. While the shot isn't going to be needed on a particularly frequent basis, it will be a big benefit when the right circumstance comes along. Build up your confidence in this shot while on the range and put it to use in an upcoming round to see how you fare. As with anything in golf, your results should gradually improve as you gain experience. Good luck!